06 January 2015

How Watching 'Downton Abbey' Helps Us Learn History!

It’s easy to recognize shows like Genealogy Roadshow, Who Do you Think They Are? (WDYTYA), and Finding Your Roots, as relevant to our genealogy and family history research.

Have you considered looking further afield?  Though I am not caught up on Downton Abbey (I am a season behind now), I know that many genealogy colleagues avidly watch this series and when the newest season premiered this past Sunday, I suspect many were watching or recording.

I’m not mentioning this just to let you know something of my personal tv viewing habits and because there is historically relevant information conveyed by period dramas.  This was recently discussed in a New York Times post, ‘Downton Abbey’ and History: A Look Back which states ...

As a chronicle of the ups and downs of fictional British aristocrats and servants, “Downton Abbey” weaves a surprising amount of authentic historical context into its plots. Here is an episode-by-episode look at some of the show’s period details, and how those events have been covered in The New York Times. “Downton Abbey” returns for its fifth season on PBS on Sunday — check back each week during the new season for updates.

I found this a fascinating read into the “true” historical context conveyed in the various episodes of this show.

Another recent article, From Masters of Sex to Boardwalk Empire: How Accurate Are Fact-Based Dramas? ends by saying one of my basic beliefs about watching historical drama ...

 "After I saw it, I looked up the history and saw how it deviated. But I was also thinking, 'There's no way I'd be looking this up without that movie.'"

That’s my perspective!  My family recently watched the first few episodes of Marco Polo (we’ve also watched Band of Brothers, Rome, Borgias, and other shows together as a family) and you know it got our attention when as an episode ends, we all have our cell phones out checking Wikipedia and other resources to get a sense of what was truth and what was fiction.

Is this not a great way to learn about history?  A tv show hooks you into wanting to learn more.  Until I watched these shows, my knowledge of these individuals and/or time periods was pretty slim.

All I need to do now is document some ancestors who might have lived during the depicted time periods and the history learned will be even more relevant!

Are there any historical dramas that you have found particularly useful as you research your ancestry?

Editor’s Note: Related articles ...

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